Rarely, before I realized* I was childless, would I think back to past exes wondering what they were up to, if they found another partner, were they still living in the same apartment I avoided while driving through town. I haven’t kept in touch with any of my serious exes and any social media connections we had were casualties of the break-up. Reminiscing about them was uncommon and relatively unwelcome; rarely did I wonder about the relationship once I processed the loss. I didn’t realize how luxurious it was to look to the future without a second thought to my relationship decisions. I learned what I could from them and moved forward to the next opportunity for love, connection, and a family.
Once I got to the point where any future partner was not going to be the father of my children, I started to get this strange urge. I was compelled to mentally review each past relationship, looking for reassurance that it was actually a good idea that we split. Which was a ridiculous idea given that my exes were almost religiously emotionally unavailable, with a couple of narcissists and alcoholics thrown in the mix. Definitely not what anyone would have considered father material (much less partner material).
But I felt a reflexive need, similar to and more intense than wondering if I left the front door unlocked or the headlights on. Oh God…had I missed my chance? Were those my chances? I had to think back and reassess the partners I may have dismissed too quickly; maybe that awkward ex who was into me a little too much at the time was the best chance I had at a baby, and missed. Maybe the handsome younger guy who freaked and left and didn’t really know what he wanted was the partner I should have tried harder to convince to stay.
What was I thinking? Did I squander my chances by being too picky? Did I really need to feel physically attracted to a partner? Maybe I should have been more open-minded and been more patient with those red flags…the red flags that screamed, “This guy has put you on a pedestal and has barely any self-esteem!! Run!” or, “He actually boasted to you how effective he was at manipulating people!! GTFO now.”
On and on, doubt and more doubt…looking back through journal entries, emails I sent to my sister about fights or relationship issues, trying to secretly find out if they were still single by creeping on Facebook or Twitter. And if I did find that out, what was I going to do? Was I actually going to act on that information? WTF brain, what are we doing here?
I was putting myself through hell second-guessing massive decisions I had agonized over years prior.
Then I read about other single women grieving their missed chance at having children experiencing the same compulsion. It was a relief to know that the feeling was not just me. I wasn’t losing it…I didn’t throw caution to the wind all those years ago.
I also began to see it as an indication of how deeply I wanted that other life. I was never quick to end serious things with a guy, sometimes I belabored the decision for months… I have always known that about myself, but the thought that maybe I could have dealt with one or two unfavorable aspects of a partner for a chance to have a child. Just reading that last sentence…it is unreal. Partners are whole, complete people. I know I wouldn’t leave a relationship for one or two annoying traits. And it is just as likely that staying in those relationships for too long prevented me from meeting a guy who would be a great partner. It is endless what-ifs down this road and it doesn’t go anywhere healthy.
I’ve experienced big grief before. But it was never accompanied by so much doubt, so much uncertainty, so much wobbliness and shadows of regret about things I once felt so sure. I’m hoping that knowing this is a relatively common occurrence will help take away its power to grab my attention late into the night. I need to be looking forward, not back, and definitely not at my exes futures.
*realizing I was childless was a slowly dawning reality of the discrepancy between my declining biological window and the actual time required to get to know someone long enough to determine if I wanted to try to have a baby with them.